It was a big weekend in college football, but for many of the top Group of 5 teams, it was kind of a snoozefest. The UCF-Temple and Utah State-Air Force matchups ended up being disappointing, and though the Tulane-Navy game ended up a thriller and Memphis got all they could handle from Tulsa, it wasn’t quite the thrilling Saturday of college football I had hoped for. Some conference races got clearer, some got muddier (I’m talking about you, MAC), and some that have just a few teams contending at the top ahead of everyone else. Anyway, you can check out last week’s rankings here, and let’s get to this week’s rankings.
#1. Cincinnati Bearcats (Last Week: 1)
Cincy had a week off between beating Tulsa and taking on ECU this upcoming week. The bye week, and probably the weakest defense they’ve seen so far, will hopefully help the Bearcats’ offense that hasn’t been particularly impressive other than their 52-point performance against Marshall. Michael Warren II has not only not gotten better in his junior year, he’s gone downhill from his production a year ago, with his average yards per carry going from 5.4 to 4.4, and after running for nineteen touchdowns last year he has just four so far in their first seven games. Sophomore QB Desmond Ridder has developed into more of a running threat, but similarly hasn’t been able to build off what he did a year ago. He’s heading for a similar passing yard output (2445 last year, 1399 through seven games) but with a lower completion percentage (62.4-60.6) and is heading for more touchdowns (14 so far, 20 last year) but a lot more interceptions (with five after having just five last year). The defense has stepped up, with only Ohio State scoring more than 24 points against them, but better offensive production will help down the stretch and in a likely AAC championship game.
#2. Appalachian State Mountaineers (2)
App State just keeps winning, moving to 7-0 with a 30-3 trouncing of South Alabama this week. The defense has made major strides in October, allowing 17 total points in three games after giving up no less than 31 in their first three games against FBS competition. The offense hasn’t produced quite as much and Zac Thomas had probably his worst passing game of the season, with a season-low completion percentage (57.1%), yards (132) and yards per attempt (4.7), but they haven’t been asked to do as much. Darrynton Evans was unable to get anything going against the Jaguars, but Raykwon Anderson (99 yards on four carries including a 67-yard touchdown) and Marcus Williams Jr (eleven carries, 94 yards, and a touchdown) kept the offense going as App State piled up 313 rushing yards. The defense was incredible, holding USA to 139 total yards, not allowing a single touchdown, and coming away with a fumble recovery to give their offense the ball in the red zone as they already held a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. They’ll look to use that newfound defensive domination against Georgia Southern as they come to Boone for a Halloween game this week.
#3. SMU Mustangs (3)
SMU escaped their matchup against Houston, refusing to allow the Cougars to flip the script on them as each of their last two meetings in Dallas featured a ranked Houston team losing to an unranked Mustangs team. Houston threatened to return the favor with an upset of their own, but fell short when their hail mary attempt was stopped before it could get started, as SMU, despite bringing very little pressure so they could pack the end zone with defenders, sacked Clayton Tune before he could get off a prayer of a pass. The Cougars actually outgained SMU 510-385 in total yards, but the Mustangs winning the turnover battle 3-1 was a big difference in the game. Houston did get a first-half-ending field goal off of Shane Buechele’s interception, but SMU had a touchdown off both of Houston’s fumbles, the first giving them a 21-7 lead in the second quarter, the second pushing the lead to 28-13 on their first drive after halftime. Houston was fortunate that the Mustangs didn’t do more with Tune’s interception, as an offensive pass interference call brought back a 4th-and-8 conversion and forced SMU to punt, setting up the Cougars’ 96-yard touchdown pass to trim the lead back down to three with just under five minutes to play. Xavier Jones helped the Mustangs earn the 34-31 win with 133 yards rushing on 22 attempts with two touchdowns, including a 62-yarder in the second quarter that gave SMU a 14-7 lead at the time. SMU now prepares for their toughest in-conference test as they travel to Memphis this week in a battle that could decide the AAC-West.
#4. Boise State Broncos (4)
Boise State is coming off a bye week and heading into what should be an easy stretch of their schedule, with the toughest of their next three games being at home against Wyoming on November 9th, which ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives them an 81.5% chance of winning. They stumbled against BYU before the bye week without their starting quarterback Hank Bachmeier, who they hope to have back at full health against San Jose State this Saturday. Should he not be ready, Sophomore Chase Cord, who made the start at BYU, should be ready to pilot the Broncos to a win anyway. They have a good running game headed by George Holani and Robert Mahone, the defense, led by Curtis Weaver and his 9.5 sacks, has been great so far and the Spartans aren’t too threatening of an opponent even as they’re 4-4 and looking to make their first bowl game since 2015. Technically, the games against Wyoming and at Utah State (Nov 23) still are big as those two still have just one in-conference loss, so Boise still has to get by them to ensure a spot in the Mountain West championship game, but there’s a reason FPI gives them a 69.4% chance at winning the conference when they’ve played just three conference games. They should win those games, they should win the conference championship game, and they still have a shot at being the Group of 5 representative in the Cotton Bowl with an upset or two in the AAC.
#5. UCF Knights (5)
It was supposed to be a big game and a tough battle as UCF headed to Philadelphia to play Temple with both schools going in at 2-1 in-conference and 5-2 overall. It turned out to be a beatdown as UCF took it to the Owls in a 63-21 win. It was looking like a good game in the first half, with some gutsy calls like UCF’s decision to go for it on a 4th-and-5 from the Temple 28 that resulted in one of Dillon Gabriel’s three touchdown passes in the game, some blunders leading to opportunities like Otis Anderson, who was otherwise fabulous for the Knights, fumbling on a punt return that led to Temple’s touchdown that trimmed the deficit to 28-21 at the half. The problem for the Owls was letting UCF run all over them in the second half, including the Knights scoring three touchdowns in just over three minutes as Temple had a turnover on downs and an interception on the drives between the UCF touchdowns. Temple would throw another pick on their next drive, and UCF would get one last score to make it the 63-21 final. Anderson rushed for 205 yards on seventeen carries in the win. Bentavious Thompson had a pair of rushing touchdowns for the Knights, and Aaron Robinson stood out defensively for UCF, with two interceptions to go along with a tackle for loss and pass breakup. UCF is given a 54.2% chance to win out by FPI, third-best in the country behind Clemson and Ohio State, and they’ll look to get there starting this week as Houston comes to Orlando for the two teams’ first matchup since 2016.
#6. Memphis Tigers (6)
Memphis barely held on to top Tulsa and set up a do-or-die game against SMU this week that won’t ensure them the AAC-West title with a win (thanks largely to their loss to Temple) but will all but end their hopes of getting to a third consecutive title game with a loss. In the game against Tulsa, the Tigers led by as much as fourteen, had an 11-point lead at halftime, a 4-point lead going into the fourth quarter, but fell behind by four in the fourth after giving up a touchdown and a field goal to the Golden Hurricane. A huge 59-yard pass from Brady White to Damonte Coxie, who had 112 receiving yards on the game, set up Kenny Gainwell’s 1-yard touchdown run to put the Tigers back on top. Tulsa had one last chance to win the game but Jacob Rainey’s 29-yard field goal attempt missed as time expired. It was Rainey’s third missed field goal of the game, having had two 40-yard attempts earlier that he failed to convert, one being blocked by Memphis’ Quindell Johnson. He also converted 26-and 32-yard attempts, but 2-5 is far from what you want on field goal attempts, and in a game you lose by a single point, that really hurts. Memphis had a missed field goal of their own, a 33-yarder that was Riley Patterson’s only attempt of the game that Memphis was fortunate to not get hurt by in the 42-41 win. Brady White finished the game 15-25 passing for 277 yards and two touchdowns, Gainwel had 149 rush yards on 24 carries and three touchdowns on the ground as Memphis escaped with the win despite being outgained and losing the turnover battle 2-0. They’ll need to play better defensively and take care of the ball better if they want to beat SMU this week.
#7. San Diego State Aztecs (8)
San Diego State finds themselves ranked after receiving one more vote point than Texas after the Longhorns’ loss to TCU. This marks the third time in the last four years that the Aztecs have been ranked at some point as Rocky Long has them bouncing back after last year’s disappointing 7-6 finish. This week, their defense led them to a win over UNLV, as they were able to hold off the Rebels’ comeback bid after they jumped out to a 17-0 lead early. That lead was built through the defense, as UNLV failed to get a first down on their first three possessions of the game, with the touchdowns coming on a 49-yard catch and run by Ethan Dedeaux. and a blocked punt by Trenton Thompson recovered by Caden McDonald in the end zone. Those would be the only touchdowns they’d get, but they were just enough as UNLV missed a 42-yard field goal that would have tied the game at 20 with just under a minute to play to seal it. The Aztecs have this week off before continuing their hunt to get to the Mountain West championship game with a home game against Nevada on November 9th. They own a 7-4 advantage over the Wolfpack all-time but lost 28-24 in Reno as part of their end-of-the-year collapse last season.
#8. Navy Midshipmen (12)
Navy picked up a big win over Tulane to move to 6-1 on the season, and FPI now projects them to finish at 9-3, with wins over UConn and Army, a loss to Notre Dame, and splitting their games against SMU and Houston (both games between 49% and 55% win probability). Win both of their tough games against opponents from Texas, and Navy would have a shot at a second conference championship game appearance in school history, and a Memphis loss would assure it. They hosted the AAC championship game in 2016, the first time a team had ever played a regular-season game after a conference championship game as they had their traditional game against Army the following week, but lost to Temple. Navy was led by Jamale Caruthers and Malcolm Perry in the win, as the two connected on a 31-yard touchdown pass, one of just two completions in the game for the Midshipmen, and Caruthers had three more touchdowns on the ground as he ran for 154 yards on just fourteen carries. Perry had 22 carries and picked up 142 yards on the ground himself. They had jumped out to a 24-0 lead early in the second quarter, and a Diego Fagot pick-six made it a 31-14 lead at halftime. The Green Wave put up a fight, tying the game at 31 early in the fourth and then again at 38 with just a minute left in the game. But Navy was able to run six plays (one of them a spike) in just 59 seconds to set up Bijan Nichols’ 48-yard game-winning field goal. The Midshipmen travel to UConn this week, and a win will give them a chance to be ranked, as they were 27th if you believe in ordering the teams in the “others receiving votes” group in the AP Poll.
#9. Air Force Falcons (13)
Air Force earned a huge win over Utah State and FPI now has them as one of four teams with a greater than 50% chance of winning out, but unfortunately for them and UCF they’ve already lost to the best team in their division and therefore are given less than a 10% shot at winning their conference. Air Force completed just two passes for 24 yards in the win. Utah State, on the other hand, ran the ball just thirteen times and gained just fourteen yards on the ground. They threw 23 passes and gained 114 passing yards while the Falcons ran the ball an astounding 78 times for 448 yards. Air Force dominated time of possession, controlling the ball for 45:43 of game clock and more than doubling the Aggies’ in offensive plays, 84-36. The result is what looks like defensive domination, as Utah State gained just one first down in the first half as the Falcons carried a 17-0 lead into the break. In the second half, it was more of the same. Utah State got an opening-drive touchdown and then again managed just a single first down in four offensive possessions as Air Force rolled to a 31-7 victory. Timothy Jackson had 148 rushing yards and a touchdown, Kadin Remsberg had 92 yards and two scores, Taven Birdow had 88 yards and a touchdown, and Donald Hammond III added 69 yards of his own on the ground as he couldn’t get much of anything going in the passing game. Air Force takes on Army, who’s been falling apart of late. After an 11-2 season last year, they came into 2019 with similar hopes of success boosted by what was viewed to be a relatively easy schedule and got out to a 3-1 start, and then the problems hit. A home loss to Tulane hurt, but back-to-back road losses at Sun Belt teams followed by a home defeat at the hands of San Jose State drove the knife into the hearts of Army fans. The Black Knights are now projected to not get to bowl eligibility for the first time since 2015.
#10. BYU Cougars (9)
BYU had a bye week after their win over Boise State to get healthy for their stretch run. It’s unclear if starting QB Zach Wilson or even backup QB Jaren Hall will be available for their game this week at Utah State, but Baylor Romney led them to a win over Boise State, so it seems possible they could beat any team left on their schedule with him at QB. They’re taking on Utah State in the battle for the Old Wagon Wheel. The Cougars lead the all-time series 48-37-3, but that doesn’t really tell the story of the rivalry. In the first 50 meetings (from 1922-1974), Utah State held a 30-17-3 advantage. Since then, BYU has owned the Aggies, with a 31-7 advantage punctuated by the Cougars winning 20 of 21 matchups between 1983 and 2009. Utah State has won the last two, as last year marked just their second win in Provo since 1978, but BYU will have to head to Logan to try to knock off the Aggies on their home field this year. It would be a big win for the Cougars who then will head into an easier stretch as they host Liberty and Idaho State and travel to UMass over their three games after this week against USU.
#11. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (10)
Louisiana had a bye week between their 37-20 win over Arkansas State, who was believed to be their biggest threat in the Sun Belt-West, and their game this week hosting Texas State, which FPI has their odds of winning up to 94.3%. That seems pretty high for an in-conference game, but it’s just one of three games left on the Ragin’ Cajuns’ schedule where they’re given over 90% odds at winning by FPI. The only game left where they’re given worse than an 85% chance to win is their game on November 7th at Coastal Carolina where FPI gives them a 75.6% shot at beating the Chanticleers. They’re expected to finish 10-3, winning the rest of their regular-season games before a second defeat to App State in the Sun Belt championship game. They’ll look to their three-headed running attack of Elijah Mitchell, Trey Ragas and Raymond Calais, who all have over 400 rushing yards already this season, to keep powering them through their Sun Belt foes. Should they get to 10 wins, it would be for the first time in school history. They had four consecutive 9-4 seasons from 2011-2014 but had their record adjusted by the NCAA and forfeited wins from each of those years due to rules violations. Those four years also led to four consecutive New Orleans Bowl wins, so far the only bowl wins in school history, something they’ll be looking to change this year.
#12. Tulane Green Wave (7)
Tulane suffered a tough loss at Navy to fall to 5-3 on the year, as they couldn’t quite come back after their miserable first half that included not recording a first down before they were down 24-0, throwing a pick-six and missing a field goal en route to being down 31-14 at the half. They scored on each of their last four drives of the game but could do nothing but watch as Bijan Nichols nailed a 48-yard field goal as time expired to send the Green Wave home as losers of the 41-38 thriller in Annapolis. Justin McMillan was 20-29 for 290 yards and three touchdowns, but his costly pick-six and a second interception early in the third quarter were costly for Tulane. They registered just four tackles for loss while the Midshipmen defense made a few more big plays, stopping Tulane in the backfield nine times in the game. They’re favored in their next two games, this week against Tulsa and November 16th at Temple, before having some tougher games against UCF and at SMU to end the year. They’re a win away from being bowl eligible and they’re likely headed for a second consecutive bowl game for the first time since 1979-80.
#13. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (14)
Louisiana Tech just keeps winning, picking up a 42-21 win over UTEP that wasn’t as close as the final score, as the Bulldogs carried a 42-7 lead into the fourth quarter before UTEP got two meaningless touchdowns. J’Mar Smith was great for Tech, as he threw 29-35 for 338 yards and three touchdowns. When he and the other starters came out of the game, Aaron Allen threw just one pass and it was intercepted. The defense that stifled the Miners for three quarters was led by Amik Robertson, who had four tackles including a sack-strip, a pass deflected, and a fumble recovery on one of UTEP’s other fumbles. They now have a bye week before hosting North Texas, who they own a 10-7 record against all-time and have won four of the past five games in the series. Every game remaining is big for the Bulldogs in terms of their hopes of winning the C-USA, as they can afford a loss but UAB and Southern Miss are currently just one game behind them and they have yet to play UAB.
#14. Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (On The Bubble)
Hawai’i took a 35-3 lead into halftime, had built that lead up to 45-10 early in the fourth quarter, and then New Mexico tried to come back. They got 21 quick points to make it 45-31 and were driving down the field, with the ball at Hawai’i’s 28-yard line before throwing an interception with just under two minutes to play as the Rainbow Warriors sealed the win. Hawai’i had a surprisingly successful game running the ball, started by Cole McDonald’s 76-yard touchdown run on their second offensive play. McDonald would end up with 140 yards and two touchdowns on the ground to go with 237 passing yards on 17-30 passing with a touchdown and an interception. Miles Reed added 97 rush yards on sixteen carries with a touchdown of his own as the Rainbow Warriors ran for 255 yards as a team, their most rushing yards in a game since 2017 when Diocemy Saint Juste ran for 202 of the team’s 274 yards in a win over San Jose State. That was a rough year for Hawai’i, highlighted only by Saint Juste’s trio of 200-yard games en route to a school-record 1,510 rushing yards in a season, and only he and Gary Allen have ever run for 3,000 career yards at Hawai’i. Hawai’i plays host to Fresno State this week, and FPI has them favored in each of their remaining games. If they win out, they’ll win the Mountain West-West division and play most likely at Boise State for the Mountain West championship.
#15. Temple Owls (11)
I feel like I could copy and paste what I wrote about Temple last week right here. It was an ugly loss as they fell apart in the second half against UCF, and they aren’t favored in any of their next three games. If they aren’t able to win one of their next two games (at South Florida, vs Tulane), this season could have an ugly end to it with a likely 5-game losing streak (assuming they would then lose at Cincinnati) that would leave them needing a win over UConn to get to bowl eligibility. It’s also possible that they win both of those next two games, as I think they’re a little better than FPI gives them credit for, and end the year 8-4, an identical record to what got then-head coach Geoff Collins the job at Georgia Tech. Even if they don’t make it to 8-4, we’re still in the middle of arguably the brightest point in Temple football history, as they’re likely to go to a fifth consecutive bowl game this year after having been to just four in school history before 2015. This week they’ll travel to USF, and so far the home team has won all five matchups between the two schools, so the Owls will be looking to change that to clinch bowl eligibility.
Utah State (15)
On the Bubble
Western Michigan, Toledo, Wyoming, Marshall, Georgia State (North Dakota State?)
I’m mostly kidding about the North Dakota State bit in the bubble watch, but they really might belong here if they were at this level. If they announced they were going to transition up to FBS, they might immediately deserve a spot on these rankings. For reference to a team that had that level of success immediately upon arrival to the FBS, look no further than Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. In their transition year of 2014, Georgia Southern went 9-3 while App State was 7-5. In their first year of bowl eligibility in 2015, the Mountaineers went 11-2 and the Eagles posted a 9-4 record. Anyway, this week we only have one ranked matchup, but it’s a big one as SMU travels to Memphis in a game with huge implications in the AAC-West. There are a few interesting games for the C-USA as Florida Atlantic travels to Western Kentucky, with both schools having one loss (both to Marshall) in-conference, with the winner there and Marshall being the only two teams with a realistic chance at winning the East division, and UAB playing at Tennessee. The Blazers should lose, but they’re just one upset away from suddenly being 7-1 with a win over an SEC school, and then we’d have to take them a little more seriously than we are right now where they’re being thought of as a team benefitting from the weakest schedule in the FBS so far. They’ve played one team ranked better than 120 by FPI, and that was their one loss at Western Kentucky. They could really go 7-5 without beating a single team that isn’t in the bottom 10-15 teams in the FBS.